Author: Matthew Reilly, 2013.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Thriller. Murder Mystery.
Other Details: Hardback. 418 pages.
England, 1546: A young Princess Elizabeth is surrounded by uncertainty. The Black Death stalks the land and with it deadly conspiracies against her. She is not currently in line for the throne, but she remains a threat to her older sister and brother. In the midst of this fevered atmosphere comes an unprecedented invitation from the Sultan in Constantinople. He seeks to assemble the finest players of chess from the whole civilised world and pit them against each other. The prize? Fabulous wealth but also the honour of Christendom.
Roger Ascham, Elizabeth's teacher and mentor, is determined to keep her out of harm's way and also continue her education in the art of power and politics. Ascham resolves to take Elizabeth with him when he accompanies the English chess champion to the Ottoman capital. But once there, the two find more danger than they left behind. There's a grotesque killer on the loose and then one of the Sultan's guest is found mutilated in the grounds of the palace. Ascham is asked by the Sultan to use his razor-sharp mind to investigate the crime. But as he and Elizabeth delve deeper into the murky world of the court and the glittering chess tournament, they find dark secrets, horrible crimes and unheard-of depravity. Things that mark the young princess for life and define the queen that she will become... - synopsis from UK publisher's website with slight amendment to remove spoiler.
In January I read Roger Ascham and the King's Lost Girl (2014 Book 7), which served as a short prequel to this novel. I came to this with fairly low expectations and while there are elements of it that were somewhat implausible, it proved quite an exciting thriller; sort of CSI: 16th Century with a royal sidekick.
Reilly clearly had fun with his premise of sending the young Princess Elizabeth on this adventure. It was the exactly kind of novel I needed on the day I read it - something not too demanding and very readable. The font and layout was helpful and resulted in no eye strain. There are a fair amount of sexual scenes which is why Reilly cautions at the start that the novel is for 'mature readers'. He didn't go into great detail and often it was the case of the encounters being described to Elizabeth by her lusty slightly older companion.
Reilly also did a good job in depicting the various games of chess played. It could have slowed down the story but he kept the descriptions lively yet informative.
Matthew Reilly's Page for 'The Tournament' - contains link to extract and reading group notes.